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Martha Hyer
 
HYER, MARTHA
(1924– ). American actress.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (Charles Lamont 1953); Riders to the Stars (Richard CARLSON 1954); Francis in the Navy (Arthur Lubin 1955); The Big Fisherman (Frank Borzage 1959); Mistress of the World (William Dieterle and Richard Angst, uncredited 1960); First Men in the Moon (Nathan JURAN 1964); "The Cat's Meow" (1965), episode of Bewitched; Picture Mommy Dead (Bert I. GORDON 1966).
 
Undoubtedly, Martha Hyer's heart lay in the American frontier, the setting for the many westerns that launched her career, perhaps a result of her upbringing in Fort Worth, Texas. But like Steve IHNAT and Glenn STRANGE, such individuals sometimes found themselves in outer space instead, as the personnel of the western B-movie and the science fiction B-movie tended to intermingle due to their shared social class. Her performances in that milieu can be quickly summarized: when given a part that offered no real creative opportunities, she was competent but unremarkable; but allowed to play a character with interesting nuances, she could make herself a dominating presence.

In the former category, surely, lies her role in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars as secretary to the man whose carefully planned space flight is hijacked by the film's titular idiots. One barely notices she is there. But Riders to the Stars offers a stunning contrast: as scientist Jane Flynn, helping to plan and monitor a pioneering space flight, she is one of the few beautiful scientists in science fiction films who is actually convincing as an educated professional (and one must remember she earned a college degree at Northwestern University), and in scenes where she expresses her passionate desire to fly into space herself, and her growing affection for astronaut William LUNDIGAN, she provides the characteristic stoic spacesuit film with a rare emotional impact. Watching the film, you will definitely notice she is there—and for those uninterested in realistic space adventures, she represents the only reason to watch the film. As for her other genre film of the era, she did the best she could in Francis in the Navy as the romantic lead in a film about a talking mule, but it hard to think of any reason to watch that film.

But having demonstrated some genuine talent, Hyer was able to move away from science fiction film to bigger and better things, and was briefly considered a major star, appearing alongside celebrated figures as Jerry LEWIS, Bob Hope, David Niven, Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine, earning an Oscar nomination for her role in Some Came Running, and almost getting the role of Marion Crane in Alfred HITCHCOCK's Psycho. During this time, her nearest approach to a genre film was her necessarily restrained performance in the reverent Biblical epic The Big Fisherman.

Approaching the age of forty, however, Hyer found herself drifting back into television roles, first in the many westerns of the early 1960s, later in more contemporary dramas; she also ventured abroad for some foreign films, beginning with the West German technothriller Mistress of the World. More significantly, in First Men in the Moon, she was first lively and assertive as the fiancée of the ne'er-do-well Arnold Bedford (Edward JUDD); but once they got to the Moon, Bedford morphed into a conventional hero and Hyer's Kate Callender became a typically helpless damsel in distress. She was also nicely unsympathetic in the horror film Picture Mommy Dead.

It was in the year that she made that film, however, that Hyer took on what became her most important role: as the wife of influential producer Hal Wallis. After continuing to perform for several years, she asked her husband for a new challenge, and he happily hired her to write the screenplay for a new movie he was producing, Rooster Cogburn  (1975), starring none other than John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn. Perhaps starting her writing career with a major motion picture was not a wise move, though, since the film was so widely panned as to drive both Wallis and his wife into retirement. And for the past thirty-five years, Hyer has remained out of sight, first as Wallis's wife, and then as his widow. If she now spends her declining years watching her old movies, one hopes that she includes Riders to the Stars.

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